The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A History in Maps

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A History in Maps

I recently returned from a trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, where I worked with the nonprofit organization 1for3.org on an ongoing project to deliver clean water to Palestinian refugees through the construction of a children’s garden that collects, cleans and stores rainwater and stormwater. You can read more about the project on 1for3’s home page; we will also be preparing a publication for release in the coming months–stay tuned.

As part of my team’s research for the project, we came across many detailed maps that explain the story of the conflict from many angles. These maps and infographics revealed subtle and obvious relationships, and got through to me in a way that the constant yet abstract reporting in the US news media has never done. I can only imagine that this is a pervasive issue for many Americans. The tragedies of religious persecution, exile, and the heartwrenching belief that your homeland has been stolen from you are things that very few of us have had to experience. However, while this makes us fortunate indeed, our inability to relate on a human level also makes it that much more difficult to understand and engage with the intricacies of one of the most complex geopolitical conflicts in global history. Thus, while this post is not meant to take sides, it is my hope that the maps that I show will have the same illuminating effect for readers as they have had for me.

Shifting Borders

Probably the most-documented and most profound issue of the conflict has been the changing borders of Israeli settlements (growing) and Palestinian territories (shrinking). Perhaps nothing marks the politicization of land quite like a border, a construct that has seen countless iterations ranging from an invisible line on a map to a highly-barricaded wall dotted with guard towers, as is the case currently throughout much of the West Bank.

I make no claims of being an expert on the history of the conflict, so I won’t go into much detail about the events (wars) that shaped the map, but the following infographic from GOOD gives a reasonably thorough overview of the most significant milestones: the 1947 UN Partition Plan, the 1947-48 Arab-Israeli War, the 1967 Six-Days War, the 1993-95 Oslo Accords, and the illegal occupation that has occurred since.

Cartographic Recession

For a more detailed, animated version of the maps, The Guardian created two flash maps that go into a deeper explanation into the relationships between occupation and policy moves and the subsequent changes in the map.

While I believe these shifting-border maps tell an accurate story about the devastating loss of Palestinian villages and the fracturing of Palestinian land between 1967-present that makes a two-state solution so challenging, it is also interesting to note just how much the somewhat arbitrary designation of a start date (1917) in a conflict dating back hundreds of years aids in making a the argument that Palestine has shrunk. What if the map started in the 7th century? At some point, as demonstrated by several of the maps from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we would and could be looking at the shrinkage of Israel.